Quitting Coal Is Hard. Just Ask Britain

How the UK embraced a painful move away from coal energy
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 24, 2018 11:10 AM CDT
Britain Quit Coal. Why Can't America?
In this 2016 file photo, an old wagon filled with coal remains at the Rhondda Heritage Park, the former Lewis Menthyr Colliery in Pontypridd, South Wales.   (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

While the Trump administration scrambles to save coal, Britain has shuttered its last deep mine and vowed to stop using coal for electricity by 2025. How did two nations take such different paths? Apparently cheap foreign coal and a political willingness to undergo the pain of mine closures fueled Britain's move to other energy sources, PRI reports. But it wasn't easy: Coal once powered ships and railroads for the British empire, played a vital role in two world wars, and kept 1.2 million people employed. The turning point came in 1984 when officials planned to shut down 20 inefficient coal pits, and a bitter strike pitted the miners against police and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. "It split families, it split brothers," says a former miner.

The miners caved a year later and Thatcher's government accelerated closures. Britain kept burning foreign coal, but the domestic industry saw its power wane as Britain passed the sweeping Climate Change Act of 2008 and promised to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2025. Then a 2013 carbon tax made natural gas less expensive than coal, and renewable energy rose to provide nearly a third of the nation's power. Meanwhile, the US saw a different story unfold as fossil fuel companies fought for survival and helped make climate change a politically polarizing issue. Yet even in Yorkshire—which the BBC says will lose a key power plant this fall—locals seem to accept the change. "I think it's inevitable," says a man who spent his career at a coal-fired plant. "Coal had its day." (Miners also continue to grapple with black lung disease.)

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